The World Health Organization has once again expressed concern over the risk of childhood ailments in the tribal areas of Pakistan, consequent on a tardy immunisation campaign.
It called upon the government to ensure security to health and humanitarian relief workers activity in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, devoting particular attention to persons displaced following the continuing clashes with the militant groups.
Lack of security hampering the movement of health workers has resulted in the virtual collapse of the monitoring mechanism, the WHO has noted and warned the situation could snowball into a major child health crisis, if left unchecked.
Officials of the health department told Dawn that a UN mission has urged senior officials to ensure facilitation of immunisation drives during the ceasefires with the militants in the troubled areas.
WHO country chief Dr Khalif Bile Mohmud told Governor Owais Ahmad Ghani that situation in the tribal area was not ripe to carry out routine immunisation campaign because of the law and order situation there.
The WHO head briefed the Governor on the situation of the routine expanded programme on immunisation (EPI) and the problems faced by the relief agencies in helping internally displaced persons in FATA and North West Frontier Province.
Dr Mohmud told the Governor that during the past one year the immunisation campaign, including polio, had slowed down or stagnated in all FATA agencies. In view of the insecurity in FATA, independent monitoring was also weakened, which compromised the quality of these interventions.
This resulted in the creation of large cohorts of children prone to polio and other vaccine preventable diseases.
During the recent polio campaign the teams were unable to access the children residing in Bajuar and Kurram agencies.
The WHO also told the governor that a possible and successful strategy applied internationally in all conflict afflicted regions was the use of existing and evolving windows of opportunity during the intervals of ceasefire "windows of peace."
"If the health workers are provided the right support and protection during these occasions, there is a great possibility to cover up these areas and provide badly needed essential health care services to the sick and malnourished children, specially those under five years of age," Dr Mohmud said.
In order to avert such unfavorable health conditions faced by tribal residents, the government might explore new strategies that could ensure the delivery of essential health care services to the high risk population groups of the society, it was suggested.
Officials said that the Governor appreciated the efforts of the WHO and assured it of support for provision of security to the health and humanitarian relief teams in the conflict-wracked tribal areas.
He also seemed to hope to involve the services of local jirgas in the project.
Interventions through jirgas had borne results in the past in FATA, officials quoted the Governor as telling the WHO chief.
He has also promised that directives to ensure adequate security to health professionals involved in anti-polio campaign in tribal areas.
The Governor also showed concern over the soaring number of confirmed polio cases in NWFP and said he would take up the issue with the Chief Minister for appropriate action.